Apartheid in Blackface brings catastrophe to South Africa
By Mark P. Fancher
On March 21, 1960, several thousand people stood resolutely outside of the police station in Sharpeville, South Africa to protest the brutal, oppressive system of racial segregation known as apartheid. White police officers who served the country’s white minority regime opened fire on the crowd and killed at least 69 of the Black protesters in cold blood. The shock waves from the tragedy accelerated the global movement to eliminate the racist system that made such a massacre possible.
Much has happened since Sharpeville. After the struggles of many around the world forced the white minority regime to release Nelson Mandela from prison, and to later yield the reins of government to his party the African National Congress (ANC), many were confident that Sharpeville was but a memory, and it would never be repeated. It was a vain hope.
On Aug.15, 2012, South African platinum miners earning as little as $500 per month for very dangerous, difficult work took to the streets of Marikana, South Africa to demand salary raises. They confronted a largely Black battalion of police officers who served a Black-led government. In a scene eerily reminiscent of Sharpeville, police opened fire on a crowd that carried clubs and machetes. When the smoke cleared, at least 34 miners lay dead, and at least 78 were wounded. The widows of the slain and the wives of the wounded assembled the next day to confront the police yet again, and to ask the simple question: “Why?”
As the world reeled yet again because of a massacre in South Africa, the regional prosecutor compounded the tragedy by preparing murder charges against 270 of the miners who survived the attack. Under South Africa’s “common purpose” law, the mineworkers were to be held responsible for the deaths of their co-workers. Global dismay, outrage and a tidal wave of opposition forced the prosecutor to back down and dismiss the bizarre charges. But these events nevertheless led many to echo the plaintive question raised by the mineworkers’ wives: “Why?”
Blacks and whites may now share public accommodations in South Africa, but when it comes to that country’s valuable natural resources, apartheid lives. Blacks go deep into the earth to mine precious minerals, while others grow wealthy from the product of their labor. The platinum mined by the slain workers is particularly valuable because the automotive industry requires it for catalytic converters. In a period when demand is greater than the supply, South Africa has more than 80 percent of the world’s platinum group metal reserves. Those who pocket the profits from this industry have no intention of sharing even a little of that wealth — even with the wretched workers who mine it.
While corporate greed partially explains the massacre, there is at least one haunting question that remains: Why do Black police and a Black government protect corporate power at the expense of innocent Black workers? An Associated Press report on the tragedy noted: “Poor South Africans protest daily across the country for basic services like running water, housing and better health and education. Protests often turn violent, with people charging that ANC leaders have joined the white minority that continues to enrich itself while life becomes ever harder for the Black majority.”
The same article explained that the youth wing of the ANC has argued to their elders in vain that South Africa’s mines and farms must be nationalized and the wealth made available to uplift the country’s poor. If the ANC’s senior leadership won’t listen, they may ultimately rue the day when South Africa explodes. We can only wonder whether mercy will be shown to those who chose to rest comfortably in the bosom of the rich while their brothers in Marikana lay dead or wounded in a river of blood.
Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about armed conflict in Africa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.